May 24, 2012

Bulk view

Starting up my delegation experiments again: data entry from receipts

We decided to skip the community-based and culture program this season, and instead buy the vegetables ourselves. I wanted to track how much we buy of different kinds of vegetables to see if we were still getting through a good quantity without the forced commitment of a box delive red bi-weekly. Tracking this means tabulating data from grocery receipts, though, and that can be a lot of typing.

Two weeks ago, I posted a job on oDesk, where I’ve hired virtual assistants before. I like oDesk because you can find a lot of potential contractors there and you can monitor people’s work. This was my job post:

Typing text from images (scanned receipts, etc.), occasional web research

Looking for someone who can type in text from scanned receipts and other images into a spreadsheet. Should be proficient in Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice/LibreOffice. Should have a Dropbox account and be comfortable using it. To show your attention to detail and give me a basis for comparison, please start your reply with your approximate WPM. Around 1-2 hours a week, no urgent requests so you can fit this around your other contracts.

By afternoon, 150+ people had applied. I narrowed it down to a shortlist of fifteen applicants based on whether they followed my application instructions, avoided gendered assumptions (so many people start their applications with “Dear Sir”; yes, I have an ambiguous nickname, but still!), and had competitive rates and typing speeds. I interviewed a few by e-mail, then hired a couple of assistants for a short trial.

The task I assigned to the first person was that of typing in line items from the grocery receipts that I scanned. I shared the folder of scanned receipts using Dropbox, and I created a sample spreadsheet with a few items. He asked a question to clarify what to do, and I answered it before going to bed. By the time I woke up, he had completed the spreadsheet and moved the receipts to the “done” folder. Total time for eleven receipts: 0:50, or roughly $0.70 of work. By golly. (I gave him a $2 bonus for good work and to start the relationship off well.) I added another eleven receipts, and he completed those in 0:50 too.

Here’s the spreadsheet. See the INSTRUCTIONS tab for details. I filled in the Lookup table afterwards so that I could easily categorize the results.

There are some web and smartphone apps that digitize receipts, like Shoeboxed or Lemon. The premium plan of Lemon can extract the item-level details, but the FAQ / help forum says that item-level export is still in the works. I haven’t found anything that has great item-level export. Having someone fill in a spreadsheet handles all the edge cases, like crumpled receipts or handwritten notes.

I’ll share more delegation experiences as I experiment!